In 1984 West End Games released the Paranoia RPG, upending the expectations of gamers who were used to thinking in terms of “cooperation”, “trust” and “friendship”. Set in Alpha Complex, the remains of humanity (after an uncertain catastrophe) were watched over in their dystopian lives by The Computer. This AI wanted everyone to be happy, productive and loyal. The Computer was also as stable as a stack of D4s and ruled by contradictory orders, arbitrary punishments and with a complete disregard for the personal safety of its charges. Luckily everyone in Alpha Complex is a clone, with up to 7 lives to fulfil The Computer’s requests. Everyone is a potential Traitor, mutant and Secret Society member, including you and all your teammates; you don’t stay on clone 1 for long…

Friend Computer is always watching. Friend Computer is always correct. All hail Friend Computer!

Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory takes the black, tongue-in-cheek humour of the RPG, brings it bang up to date and puts it into a single player squad-based investigative shooter. Opening with your first clone being decanted, you tumble into the world with absolutely no idea of what’s going on. Bored technicians make sure you have the basics, “walk”, “talk”, “use Hygiene Booth” and explain that you’ve got a mutation. Being a mutant is, naturally, treason so do be careful about blowing up obstacles or starting fires with the power of your mind…

Poor hygiene displeases Friend Computer, so scrub up citizen!

Once you’ve got cleaned up, chatted a bit and had your implanted link to The Computer installed (with different animations depending upon where you click on the installation equipment, my favourite is the one that stabs you in the head and leaves you cowering in the chair), you can take a quick look around Alpha Complex, meet your Team Leader and get some sleep, ready for your first assignment in the next daycycle.

Waking, you get your first assignment from The Computer and kick off the tutorial properly, tracking down a rogue bot for R&D. You pick 3 officers; in future missions you’ll have more choice but in this you have Happiness, Hygiene and Technical Officers, with their own skills and special abilities. Pick up your gear at the vending machine and head down to the lower levels for some combat, conversation and exploration.

Friend Computer only wishes for citizens’ safety and happiness. Happiness is mandatory. Failure to exhibit happiness is treason. Treason is punishable by death. I hope this has not made you unhappy, citizen.

The Computer is the first thing that raised eyebrows for me. The trailer/intro video uses a Hal-style voice, soothing and calm, a nice contrast to the awful things it has done and will do in the name of looking after the citizens. The in-game voice for Friend Computer sounds more like a petulant 6-year-old. This does instantly make you feel more jittery but I miss the deeper masked insanity of the intro. The vocal patterns will be familiar to anyone who uses TTS; to me it sounds like the IVONA Emma voice pack through a heavy filter or a sterling piece of voice work.

While I’m here; the Treason Meter. It’s a core mechanic, can only go up and when it reaches 100% you’re deemed a Traitor to be hunted down/turned to ash/report to a Self-Termination Booth. 

Infractions that can boost your Treason Meter include:

  • Questioning The Computer
  • Entering a higher Security Clearance Level area
  • Punching a viewscreen (I miss-clicked)
  • Displaying knowledge of Treasonous activities
  • Admitting to having joined a Secret Society
  • Being shopped by a team member during debriefing for Treasonous activities on a mission
  • Getting your team killed (so they can’t shop you. It was worth a try)

Sometimes you HAVE to perform Treasonous Activities on missions to progress, ideally in signal dead zones where The Computer can’t directly monitor you. Do this in front of your team and you’d better hope your relationship is good enough that they don’t turn you in. Failing to report Treasonous Activities is itself a Treasonous Activity. This is deliberately contradictory and highly unfair; very on-brand for a Paranoia game. I think The Computer read a lot of Kafka.

Once you get down to it, the play mechanics are easy to learn; select with left mouse button, move on the right. The isometric view echoes the recent Shadowrun games while exploring and picking up clues and goodies but when combat starts it all gets very fraught.

Combat in Alpha Complex is swift and deadly

No turn-based combat here, everything is in motion; your opponents will jockey for position, switch targets and mercilessly turn your team into chutney if you stand still. Adapt your tactics, keep moving, use cover and pay attention to your weapons, ammo and healing options. Live Pause is your friend and essential as fights are chaotic by design.

Brief chat about Clearance Level and combat; you equip your team with lasers and armour of their Clearance Level colour. In a fight these do normal damage against the same level, reduced versus one rank up and against 2 ranks higher… you really need another option. Grenades. Grenades work well.

Red clearance citizens resplendent in their red outfits, have red clearance level and can enter red security areas. They often need to access higher security areas to fulfil Friend Computer’s demands. Which is treason. And punishable by death.

After a fight you have to race the scrubbots to loot the corpses, as they will clean up if left to their own devices. Grenades can solve your scrubbot problem too (though of course damaging Alpha Complex’s limited resources is treasonous) . You can loot gear and scrap from the traitors you remove, and that’s used in Recyclotrons to craft new and better equipment. Not that The Computer would send you out with insufficient gear for the mission at hand. Such a suggestion is good for at least an extra 10% on the Treason Meter.

A fishy mission… but remember, goldfish will never betray you. Can Red Clearance troubleshooters own yellow fish?

Is Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory a faithful adaptation of the RPG? No, and rightly so. However, with its chemically altered characters, tightrope trust issues, secret societies and bizarre conspiracies it captures the flavour. There may even be an overarching plot, but that’s above your Clearance so why so curious Citizen?

Drink your Bouncy Bubble Beverage (the only drink that’s approved!) and know that The Computer is, once more, your friend.

4 Treason Stars out of 5 – Recommended

A download code for Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory was provided by HomeRun PR on behalf of BigBen Interactive for this review.

Linda Evans
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